Possible rail service issues in Vancouver set off an investigation by the Canadian Transportation Agency


Fresh off of the initiation of the CPTPP trade deal, Canada’s main access to Asia is under review by the Canadian Transportation Agency.  The agency has initiated an investigation into possible freight rail service issues in the Vancouver area sparking speculation on which commodity might be involved.

According to a news release, under provisions added to the Canada Transportation Act in May 2018, the CTA can, of its own motion, launch such an investigation, provided the Minister of Transport agrees. The minister’s authorization was requested and provided last Friday.

“One of the CTA’s responsibilities is to help ensure an efficient, smoothly-running national rail system. This is the first time we’re using a new authority to launch investigations on our own motion to advance this mandate. The public hearing will give parties an opportunity to submit evidence as the CTA considers whether railway companies operating in the Vancouver area are fulfilling their service obligations and, if they aren’t, what remedies should be ordered. We’ll get the investigation done as quickly as possible, but we’ll take the time required to gather all the relevant facts.” – Scott Streiner, chair and CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency

The matters covered by the investigation will include whether there is evidence of discriminatory treatment of certain commodities, how freight rail permits and/or embargoes are being used, and whether railway companies operating in the Vancouver area are fulfilling their service obligations. The railways and other stakeholders will participate in a public hearing at the end of January to answer question of the CTA.

Regarding the audit, CN Rail spokesperson, Jonathan Abecassis, indicated to RealAgriculture, “CN acknowledges the Canadian Transportation Agency’s (CTA) decision to initiate an investigation into possible freight rail service issues in the Vancouver area. CN understands that the investigation into the congestion that temporarily affected the Port of Vancouver area in late 2018 will involve the many participants of the supply chain. CN will cooperate fully with the investigation.”

“Based on the performance of both CN Rail and CP Rail for the shipping of the 2018/2019 crop, it would seem unlikely that the complaint was filed by an agricultural commodity group,” says Shaun Haney, founder of RealAgriculture.

“CN acted swiftly and efficiently to serve its customers during this period and played its role in moving record volumes through Vancouver’s complex and multi-commodity supply chain. During this period, CN moved 10% more freight through Vancouver than last year,” Abecassis says.

As for CP, its taking “great exception” to be potentially involved with the CTA investigation.

“We have not been made aware of any formal complaints to the CTA relating to our service in Vancouver, nor has the CTA been in touch with us prior to launching this investigation,” says CP president and CEO Keith Creel. “It is irresponsible to institute an investigation without at minimum reaching out to ask CP for information. We have always been forthright and cooperative with the CTA.”

Creel goes on to say his company prides itself on being a transparent supply chain enabler and is committed to working collaboratively with customers and the government to address valid concerns. He also mentions CP recently worked closely with CN in Vancouver, including by assembling blocks of cars for CN to simplify last mile operations, help ease congestion, and expedite recovery. To further support recovery, CP implemented embargos and permits to help manage traffic into congested consignees.

“Are we perfect 100 percent of the time? No,” Creel says. “When we are not performing to the requisite level of service, I will be the first to step up and acknowledge it. The flip side of that coin is: when we are subject to unsubstantiated action, I will be the first to step up and defend the men and women who make this operation run.”

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